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William Blake’s Visionary Landscape near Felpham

Jonathan Roberts

Perhaps the most striking account of a religious vision that Blake offers is a poem enclosed in an 1800 letter to his friend and patron Thomas Butts. This rare moment of autobiographical verse, usually referred to by its first line, “To my Friend Butts,” describes Blake’s vision on the beach at Felpham. The poem is well known beyond Blake studies, as it occurs more frequently in anthologies of mysticism than any other passage from his work (with the possible exception of the opening lines of “Auguries of Innocence”). Yet within Blake studies it has received comparatively little scholarly attention. This may be due in part to its anomalous character, something that it shares with another work from the same period and place: Blake’s pencil and watercolor sketch Landscape near Felpham. I argue below that there is a significant and demonstrable relationship between these two works, and that this connection offers a valuable resource for reflection on our treatment of the relationship between the material and the transcendent in our discussion of Blake.

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